Activists welcome ‘rare’ conviction

Activists welcome 'rare' conviction

Apr 1, 2011

Source: Times News Network

That Bollywood star Shiney Ahuja was convicted for raping his domestic help is one of those rare David-versus-Goliath stories where David actually wins. When it comes to domestic workers, instances of sexual violence are plentiful but few come to the fore. While Shiney was convicted under the IPC, laws specifically governing domestic workers are either non-existent or woefully inadequate. For instance the Maharashtra Domestic Worker's Welfare Board Act 2008 is yet to be implemented. Even if it were to be implemented, the Act, which focuses on social welfare schemes for domestic workers, does not have any provision for grievance redressal or how to handle cases of atrocity against domestic workers.

"The Act only looks at welfare measures and does not define work conditions for this highly vulnerable section of very poor women who work in the private space of the employer's home,'' says Sonya Gill, president of the Mumbai-Navi Mumbai Ghar Kamgar Sanghatna and state secretary of the All India Democratic Women's Association.

Gill welcomed the verdict against Shiney, pointing to the huge amount of pressure that that the victim was under to retract her statement. "In this particular instance, there has been a concerted effort to dilute the crime,'' said Gill. She has observed a steady increase in sexual violence against young domestic workers in affluent localities such as Versova-Oshiwara and Powai-Vikhroli.

She said that domestic workers have fallen off the map of existing labour laws, with no official registration of employees and employers. "At the most, gated societies are now maintaining a list of domestic workers who come to the society, which is then handed over to the local police station. But this is done keeping the safety of the employer in mind, and not the domestic help,'' she adds. Incidentally, the latest draft of the government of India's Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Bill 2010 excludes domestic workers from the purview off the Bill and does not recognize the home as a workplace.

"While the earlier draft of the Bill, drawn up by the National Commission for Women, includes homes in the definition of workplace, this has been dropped from the latest draft of the Bill. There is no comprehensive legislation for the protection of domestic workers in case of harassment, even though they are especially vulnerable to assault. While the Shiney Ahuja case was highlighted by the media, most such cases don't even get reported to the police,'' said Christin Mary, state coordinator for the Domestic Worker's Movement